The nectarine blush of evening on Mt. Rainier still makes me shake my head in wonder.
A stroll through the Pike Place Market still cheers me up, no matter how crowded it is, because the presence of lots of happy tourists means our city’s beloved market is still thriving.
The Chinook salmon are still thronging up the ladder at the Ballard Locks, a fact I’m happy to report after my first visit in about twenty years.
And I’m still a fan of the word still. Some people think it’s a negative word, that it implies that the opposite is more likely. Still running, at your age? Good for you! But more often, for me, it’s a word that connotes a moment of savoring. Marveling. At something that happens night after night (sunset glow on Rainier) and is still worth stopping to take in. At something that is still true (the Market is a mood-lifter) no matter how much downtown Seattle has changed, or I have changed, since my last meander through the stalls. At something that brilliant engineers built long ago (the fish ladder at the Locks), that is still getting salmon back to their streams to spawn.
Salmon know the power of home. And so do we.
This year, I feel like my connection to my hometown—Seattle—is not just still strong, it’s stronger. Maybe because I’ve been doing a bit of roots research and learning fun facts such as this one: Turns out my Norwegian great-grandfather lived out his final decade or two in a beachside cabin in Ballard, about a hundred yards from where Ray’s Boathouse is now. I had always thought he died years earlier, probably in Montana. I didn’t know that he moved to Seattle after his wife died and his homestead farm was shriveled by drought. His first job here was laying streetcar tracks. My grandma, seven at the time, went first to Irving and then to Salmon Bay Elementary Schools. She never told us she had lived in Ballard at all.
Now, when I visit the National Nordic Museum, or the Locks, or Ray’s, I feel a connection to Ballard that is specifically mine; a far tighter link than sharing Scandinavian roots with a neighborhood I never knew my own family had lived in.
And that’s one reason I still love to teach memoir writing. Because writing about your life and roots and the people who matter to you is a way of pondering all of it, including things you didn’t know until recently (so much about my grandmother) and still don’t know (likewise).
Trying to put words together that capture what is most important to you is hard work. And yet as you do it, you get to savor, to dwell on, the places and people and sights and sounds that are most meaningful for you. They’re not all pretty, but they’re uniquely yours. And there’s power and poignance to the un-pretty and the painful parts. I will never forget writing about my mother’s death, rain falling outside my window as my own tears dripped down my nose and fogged my glasses and I searched for the words, sniffling and typing, deleting and trying again, finally writing what I needed to write but hadn’t wanted to: that I wasn’t there when she died. It’s still so painful to think of it. But I’m glad I wrote it, because it was the truth. Writing it down did not change that. But it helped me to face it. To acknowledge, accept, and mourn it.
And it’s still true. Just as all the happy memories I wrote about her are also still true.
If my mother were alive, I bet she’d still be game for a wander through the Market, or a field trip to the Locks. I know she would mourn the glaciers that Mt. Rainier has lost. But she would still marvel at that evening glow. Just as she used to love those stunning sunsets over the Olympics that are still on the menu at Ray’s.